Access symbol: inclusive or exclusive?

International symbol for access. Blue background with white graphic.Confusion still reigns about the international symbol of access (ISA). Is it exclusively for wheelchair users? Or does it denote access for everyone? The ISA was originally created to denote physical spaces for wheelchair accessibility. The access symbol’s meaning has evolved into something much more complex. 

A study with participants who were a mix of people with and without disability revealed some interesting findings. However, A set of six symbols denoting walking can, signing, Braille, hearing loop, and audio description.some participants who did not identify as having a disability described themselves as having some form of impairment. This illustrates ideological differences about disability per se, and highlights how society uses labels and symbols to define a group or culture in wider society. 

The article has lots of statistical results. The discussion and conclusions are worth a read because of the implications across society. It includes a look at all the symbols currently in use to signify different disabilities. Some participants wanted to see characteristics of themselves in symbols, but this creates uncertainty with other groups. As an aside, the use of the word “handicap” showed up in participant responses, indicating it is still in common usage.

The title of the article is Effectiveness of the International Symbol of Access and inclusivity of other disability groups.

The article concludes, “Perhaps a more effective solution would be standards which incorporate universal design, thereby ensuring equitable and intuitive use of products A blue background with three icons. One shows a woman pushing a pram, the next a woman with a dog, the third, a wheelchair user. The icons are in whiteand spaces and eliminating the need to symbolically represent population-based accessibility. Initiatives such as Design for All (DfA) in Europe, which was adopted in the EIDD Stockholm Declaration of 2004, and the Barrier-Free Accessibility (BFA) program in Singapore, promote a social model of disability by encouraging barrier-free design of products, services, and environments for people of all abilities and under varying socioeconomic situations.”

Does the symbol need to be rethought?

four white figures on a blue background showing a man and woman with a square head and a man and a woman with a misshapen head“Does the international symbol for disability need to be rethought”? is the title of an article in the FastCompany blog. First question this raises is, “Is it a symbol for disability or a symbol for access?”  Actually, it is a symbol for access, not disability.. The article proposes a variety of symbols for different disabilities. But do we need more symbols and if so, what purpose would they serve? 

 

Principles for Accessibility Studies

Brightly coloured graphic figures of all sizes and colours merged together. Objects should not just be useful; they should be intrinsically meaningful both philosophically and emotionally. In his paper, Gian Maria Greco discusses the move from separate approaches based on disability to universal approaches. His Principles for Accessibility Studies are a useful take-away for designers and lead to co-design thinking. 

Greco follows on from the philosophical work of Rob Imrie and his discussions on the quest for universality. The title of the paper is, Accessibility Studies: Abuses, Misuses and the Method of Poietic DesignGreco concludes the article with a list of principles for design:

    1. The Principal of Universality: accessibility concerns all, not exclusively specific groups or individuals.
    2. The Principle of Personalisation: one size does not fit all. The design should be able to respond to the specificities of individual users.
    3. The Principle of User-centrality: design should focus on users and their specificities.
    4. The Principle of Epistemic Inclusivity: users and other stakeholders, including experts, are bearers of valuable knowledge for the design of artefacts.
    5. The Principle of Participation: design should be carried out through the active participation of the stakeholders involved.
    6. The Principle of Pro-activism: accessibility should be addressed ex-ante, not ex-post.

From the abstract

Accessibility has become increasingly discussed in a range of fields, producing a large number of new ideas, theories, and innovations that have proven to be quite fruitful. A closer look shows that different fields have experienced fundamental changes. There has been a shift from specific accounts to a universalist account of access, a shift from maker-centred to user-centred approaches, and a shift from reactive to proactive approaches.

Through these processes, accessibility has birthed new areas within those fields, that have been gradually converging to constitute the wider field of accessibility studies. The nature and position of accessibility studies has now become a central topic. This ongoing progression of conceptual clarification may bear some misunderstanding and misinterpretations along the way.

In the paper, I first briefly review the principal traits of the process of formation of accessibility studies. Then I address some possible misconceptions; and finally, introduce a first, very general sketch of poietic design, a method proper to accessibility studies.

Social ramps for social inclusion

Four panes of a church stained glass window depict different people needing help.Inclusion and exclusion in the social environment discussed from the perspective of the Christian Church is a novel approach. Society has social norms and if people don’t fit them they are often ignored or excluded. They ask the question, “If exclusion occurs because of social skill deficits, who has the deficits?” Is it the one who is different or the one who could accept or change their behaviour? Thinking about how we socially exclude due to notions of social ineptness, often without realising, is an important topic. The authors discuss the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design in relation to social inclusion and show how the Church could do better. 

The article is available from ResearchGate: Social Ramps: The Principles of Universal Design Applied to the Social Environment. It’s wordy and philosophical but worth a read. By Jeff McNair and Bryan McKinney.

Abstract: This article considers a next step in the application of universal design principles, that being universal social design. Using the idea of “social ramps,” we consider seven principles of universal design from a social perspective. Social skill deficits in persons with disabilities has arguably been the reason for exclusion of persons with disabilities. But if the traditions of those without disabilities leads to the exclusion of those with disabilities, then one must wonder who has the social skill deficits? This is particularly the case from a Christian perspective. This article challenges the reader on a variety of levels to reflect on social practices with an eye toward changes leading to inclusion.

 

Equal access to sex workers

A woman wearing a mustard coloured jumper is hold the the hands of someone who is hugging her from behind. There is no head, just the torso.Almost everyone likes a hug, and sometimes something a little more intimate. The Conversation has an article arguing that the NDIS should pay for sex workers. But being a resident in an aged care home should not be a barrier to having this kind of intimacy either.  That’s whether it’s from a sex worker or a partner. An article in Aged Care Insite, Sex work in aged care more than just physical, discusses the issues of intimacy and  “skin hunger”. For some clients of sex workers it is about being close and touching another human being rather than sexual intimacy. It’s about feeling the warmth of another body, feeling their heartbeat and breathing. When it comes down to it, older people have the right to access sex and intimacy services just like anyone else. However, those who live in their own homes might be in a better position than those in an aged care facility. Time for policies on this aspect of aged care to be universally designed?

 

United Nations Inclusion Strategy

United Nations Building in New YorkThe United Nations is planning to actively include people with disability at all levels of their operations. It’s one thing to have a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, but not a good look if the UN itself isn’t leading by example.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said, “Realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is a matter of justice as well as a common-sense investment in our common future”, but “we have a long way to go in changing mindsets, laws and policies to ensure these rights”.   Global Accessibility News has more detail on this story. Better late than never.

What is “reasonableness’ in the concept of reasonable accommodation” when it comes to applying accessibility and universal design? Professor Rafael de Asis Roig discusses this philosophical question in the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. He contends that the content of universal accessibility is “constrained by three types of circumstances that could be considered as the bounds for what is necessary, possible and reasonable”.

Universal Design and Reasonable Accommodation

Australian Human Rights Commission logoFor anyone interested in the debate about reasonableness, and the application of “unjustifiable hardship” rulings by the Australian Human Rights Commission, this article explores reasonableness from different perspectives and concludes,

“Therefore, in accordance with the foregoing, it is possible to have a comprehensive vision about reasonableness in the disability domain. This demand makes it necessary to deem a measure as reasonable in the context of disabilities when:

    • It is justified because it adequately provides for full participation in society.
    • It shall be deemed as possible, taking into account the state of scientific, technical and human diversity knowledge.
    • It shall be deemed as a non-discriminatory differentiation or undifferentiation which is not harmful for physical and moral integrity and at the same time does not prevent from meeting basic needs nor avoids participation in society on an equal basis.
    • It shall be deemed as proportional and, therefore, entails more advantages than sacrifices within the context of human rights.
    • It shall be deemed as acceptable by the community to which it is addressed.”

The article, Reasonableness in the Concept of Reasonable Accommodation, was published in The Age of Human Rights Journal, 6 (June 2016)

An earlier unpublished article tackles the issues of human rights and “unjustifiable hardship” in the Australian context by Schraner, Bringolf and Sidoti which discusses the issues from an economic perspective. Written in 2012, it pre-dates the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

  

Language Guide for Journalists and Others

Front cover of the language guide for journalists.Acceptable language regarding people with disability has changed, and standards continue to adapt as understanding and perceptions evolve. Many terms once widely used are now considered to imply inferiority and serve to marginalise people. The National Center on Disability and Journalism updated their Style Guide in 2021. It provides alternatives to terms still seen too often in the media.

The guide also gives an explanation for why some terms are considered offensive, derogatory, and/or marginalising. Unless the context of the story relates to the disability, it might not be necessary to point to any kind of impairment. And think about illustrations and photos too.

Here are a few common terms to avoid:

Afflicted with: Implies that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life.

Able-bodied: Refers to a person who does not have a disability. The term implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well. Use non-disabled. Use person without disability. 

Confined to a wheelchair: Describes a person only in relationship to a piece of equipment designed to liberate rather than confine. Use wheelchair user.

Stricken with, suffers from, victim of: These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life. Use living with…

Demented: Refer to someone as having dementia only if the information is relevant to the story and a formal diagnosis has been made. Use “a person with dementia” or “a person living with dementia.” Do not use senile.

Special needs: This can be problematic where there are government funded programs for “special schools”. The term is considered stigmatising – use “functional needs” or describe the specific issue or disability. Everyone has needs.

Inclusive illustrations: What’s in a face?

Four male and female couples with different skin tones and face shapes. Inclusive illustrations.It’s often someone other than the writer of an article that chooses a picture to go with it. Usually this is a stock photo that might not convey the intended message. Stock photos of older people are often patronising. They show young and old hands, or a young person looking lovingly at an older person. Most illustrations are far from inclusive. 

Similarly, stock photos of wheelchair users often use non-disabled models and not real wheelchair users. An article and guideline from an illustrator discusses how to add diversity to your brand whether an organisation, service or a product. The title of the article is, Your Face Here: Creating illustration guidelines for a more inclusive visual identity.

Whether being used to distill complex messages or add a touch of whimsy, illustration is one piece that makes up a company’s visual brand identity.”  

Also have a look at these stock photos of older people and see what you think. Note that they are all white and active – no diversity here. 

Do’s and Don’ts of disability language

front cover of the What Do I Say? booklet.Language etiquette around the topic of disability seems to get some people tongue-tied. Fear of offending often results in just that. But so does using outmoded terms such as “handicapped”. So what are the do’s and don’ts of terminology and language use?

People with Disability Australia (PWDA) have a great guide. It gives a context to the importance of language and how it relates to dignity and respect. It is based on the social model of disability. That is, disability is not an individual medical problem. Disablement is the result of an environment filled with physical and social barriers.

Should you say “People with disability” or “disabled person?” It depends on the individual. However, government policies use the person first version – people with disability. The one to avoid is “the disabled” because it dismisses people and puts this diverse group into one category. The same can be said for “the elderly”. 

Adaptations of the word disability, or euphemisms, should not be used either. Terms such as differently-abled, special needs, or handicapable sound clever but are demeaning. Other terms such as “all abilities” suggests the opposite – a special place for people with disability. If it is inclusive it shouldn’t need a “special” title. However, accessible features can be included in any descriptions of the place or service.

The PWDA guide gives an overview of ableist language and its impact, some advice on reporting on disability, and a list of words and recommended alternatives. 

Disability is not about inspiration

One other important aspect of reporting on disability is what the late Stella Young described as “inspriation porn” in an entertaining TED talk. The portrayal of a person doing everyday things, or achieving a goal, as being inspiring gets the no-go signal. People with disability are often portrayed in the media as being “sufferers” or “heroes”. Rarely is either the case. 

 

Access to Premises Standard and existing buildings

A Westpac bank branch in NSW country town. It is a large old two storey house with steps to the entrance. Is the Access to Premises Standard now in the hands of industry?Michael Small’s Churchill Fellowship report tracks and compares discrimination laws and industry practice in relation to public buildings. He questions whether the control of the Access to Premises Standard is falling more into the hands of industry as Human Rights Commission resources are becoming increasingly constrained.

Three of his recommendations are: that more training is needed for industry to help them understand the standards; more flexibility is needed for building upgrades; and better systems are needed for compliance enforcement and auditing. The title of his report is, Ensuring the best possible access for people with disability to existing buildings that are being upgraded or extended. The countries visited and compared are Canada, United States of America, Ireland and United Kingdom. 

Universal Design: Social justice or just marketing?

Corning building in New York. A curved affair with a large plaza in front.Does universal design pursue social justice or is it a marketing strategy? Aimi Hamraie takes a look at universal design from a feminist perspective and claims that this is not a value-free notion and not without symbolic meaning. So, is universal design social justice or just marketing?

If disability is a product of the built and social environments rather than something intrinsic to the body, then universally designing should be the ideal outcome of disability politics. However, the physical environment alone is not enough to account for exclusion. Also, design professions grapple with the idea that universal design is “one-size-fits-all”, which it is not.

This philosophical essay challenges conventional wisdom about universal design. It has a distinctly North American approach underpinned by the civil rights movement. It charts the history of universal design, argues why design matters, and asks, “How can design be universal?” Hamraie concludes that collective access is the way forward – essentially arguing for participatory design, “shifting from value-explicit design for disability to design with and by misfitting bodies more generally.” The title of the article is, “Designing Collective Access: A Feminist Disability Theory of Universal Design”. 

Hamraie is also co-author of a new book, Building Access that brings together UD history and architectural history in designing and making built environments usable by all. The authors ask who counts as the everyone of universal design.

Universalism: who does it serve?

A graphic showing tall buildings and trees set on an architect drawingRob Imrie and Rachael Luck discuss universal design from the perspective of the lives and bodies of people with disability. Their philosophic offering is the introduction to a set of eight papers in a special issue of Disability and Rehabilitation. They ask, Universalism: who does it serve?

Some important questions are raised about the role of universalism and the embodiment of disability. For example, proponents of universal design say that users are crucial to the design process. But what does that mean for the skills of designers – will they be lost or discounted? Designers have the power and skills to design for the benefit of some groups and not others.

The focus of universal design is often on techniques and operational outcomes. Is this enough – are there other aspects to think about? Imrie and Luck provide a paragraph on each paper in the edition. It is an open access publication.

Imrie and Luck conclude:

“The papers, as a collective, are supportive of universal design, and see it as a progressive movement that is yet to realise its potential. The contributors provide insight into the tasks ahead, including need for much more theoretical development of what universal design is or ought to be in relation to the pursuit of design for all and not the few.  This includes development and deployment of concepts that enable non-reductive conceptions of design and disability to emerge, aligned to political and policy strategies that enable universal design to become a socio-political movement in its broadest sense.”

The title of the editorial of the special edition of Disability and Rehabilitation is, “Designing inclusive environments: rehabilitating the body and the relevance of universal design“. Thought provoking reading for anyone interested in UD as a social movement as well as design thinking. 

Is the NDIS promoting inclusion?

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion. Is the NDIS promoting inclusion?While the political focus is on the NDIS, we are forgetting the National Disability Strategy. This strategy is for all people with disability, not just the few who will be eligible for the NDIS. Consequently, Emily Steel asks, Is the NDIS promoting inclusion?

Her main point is that the processes and outcomes of the NDIS can end up working against inclusion and perpetuating segregation. The NDIS aims to promote inclusion, but its very nature is singling out people with ‘special needs’. 

The NDIS is Australia’s response to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But on its own, the NDIS won’t realise disability rights. The model is built on the idea that people with disability are a ‘special’ problem. The National Disability Strategy on the other hand, is about mainstreaming and inclusion. The NDIS is about the individual and the National Disability Strategy is about structural change.

Where Is the National Disability Strategy?

In her article, Emily Steel discusses how the intent of the National Disability Strategy is left forgotten in the wake of the NDIS. To achieve inclusion we need a broad universal design approach to mainstream society. We need both the NDIS and the National Disability Strategy. In addition, we need to consider disability as an aspect of diversity. If not, we are still segregating and marginalising. 

The title of her article is, Different, not ‘special’: realising disability rights through inclusion in all sectors

Editor’s note: The NDIS supports a relatively small number of people with disability. So what can others expect if they do not qualify for NDIS support? Will the public and private sectors believe they no longer need to take responsibility for inclusion? All the more reason to support the push for universally designed environments, services, products and programs. 

The graphic, found on Pinterest, neatly shows the concepts of exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion. 

 

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